497 Draemon

    Nix spotted the flash of black wings and leaped from the shoulder of the wood golem.  At the apex of his jump, Rhy swooped in and gripped both of his hands before banking effortlessly away.

    "Very trusting, Nix!"

    Nix held tightly onto her bone hands as she climbed higher into the sky.  "You aren't going to drop your Champion.  That's just not going to happen, right?"

    "I suppose so," Rhy affirmed.  "Where should I put you down?"

    "Behind enemy lines, time to pull these weeds out!"

    Rhy nodded but didn't comment.  The Inferno Guild leader had tank-like survivability.

    Nix readied himself when she banked suddenly and entered a shallow dive.  She moved into the trees to mask their movement before landing softly on the ground.  "I'll keep an eye on things from above!  Be careful, Nix."

    "Going to eliminate whatever cadre they have left." Nix waved a skeletal hand and waited until she was back in the air before equipping the stealth ring.

    From the air, Nix had spotted a lone tent that was somewhat hidden under the forest canopy.  He was halfway toward his objective when he ran into the teams sent to find him.  There were five of them; each of them had a beast leashed to their wrists.  They advanced in a long line about fifteen meters apart.  Without thinking it through, he scampered up a nearby tree; his boney hands and feet made climbing easy as he advanced up the rough bark trunk.

    According to Alfie, these groups were the elite fighters from the Ice Faction. They were referred to as cold shock teams and were a matched pair of witch and beast.  Cold shock teams shared a deep bond that made silent communication possible. The beasts were furred animals with extended snouts and sharp rows of teeth. From his vantage point in the air, Nix thought that they resembled overly muscular wolf-hounds.  The handlers all carried bows and a shortsword.  He took out the small pouch he had prepared and let it hang loosely from his exposed vertebrae. It was filled with various herbs that Alfie gathered for him; he assured Nix that it would mask his undead scent.

    A stealthed Nix clung to the side of the tree while the cold shock pairs weave back and forth in a search pattern.  Every few seconds, they would stop and cast minor ice flows.  The Inferno leader watched the pair beneath him; had he possessed all of his abilities, he would have taken them all. Growling from the beast below pulled his attention from the caster. The animal's low growl seemed to be directed at his partner.

    "Trouble in the ranks?" Nix watched as the beast snapped at its handler before being jerked backward by the leash around its neck.

    "You damned fiend!" The female kicked the animal once, only to have it latch onto her leg with powerful jaws and upend her.

    Nix has to clench his teeth together to keep from laughing as the beast shook its head from side to side.

    "Take that broken bitch back to camp and put it down." An older woman spoke from nearby; by comparison, her beast was calm and collected.

    "Yes, Coven leader." The witch regained her feet and pulled the beast upward until the leash tightened around its neck. With difficulty, she started dragging the animal back to camp while the rest of her group continued their search; Nix quietly worked his way down the tree and followed.

    A small gulley that was overgrown with brush gave Nix the moment he was looking for. The shortcut put the pair out of camp's view for a few seconds but also cut the struggling beast handler's trip in half.  A half dozen emerald strands encircled the witch's neck and yanked her backward onto the rocky ground. Within moments she was staked into the ground by a flaming emerald blade.

    The beast's low growl from a few meters away warned Nix not to approach; other than that, it ignored Nix's presence as he searched the corpse.  The lead she had been holding was lying on the ground a few meters away.

    Nix glanced toward the camp and then back into the direction they came from.  "Can't just leave you here.  If you go running into camp..."  The Inferno leader shook his head slightly and advanced cautiously. "You look like a dog, and I love dogs."

    The pair stared at each other over the corpse of the witch.  Slowly the beast's head cocked to one side.  The skeleton knelt and held out a bone hand.  "Come on, what kind of dog doesn't love bones?"

    The beast advanced a step and then sat down on its hindquarters. Nix felt confident that it had no interest in going to camp with him. "Gonna leave you here, for now."  He took one last look at the dangling leash, according to Alfie, that created the bond between the hunting pairs.

    Nix approached a large green tent that had been heavily camouflaged with branches and leaves from the surrounding area.  Had he not already known it was there, he probably would have missed it.  Emerald flames pushed into his sword hilt as he ran the length of one side, cutting through the branches and tent walls like they didn't exist.  "I need a catchphrase for moments like this."  An instant later, he was picked up and flung several meters into the air as a corresponding explosion enveloped the area in a ball of orange flames.  The skeleton bounced hard on the rocks, rolling several times before skidding to a  stop close to the gulley where the beast was hiding.

    /Alpha: Rhy: You okay, Nix?

    /Alpha: Nix: Yep.  The tent I was about to wipe out just blew up.

    /Alpha Pon: What did you do?

    /Alpha: Nix: Knocked politely.  Clean up in aisle one... I'm hurt pretty bad.

    /Alpha: Rhy: Need me to pick you up?

    Nix rolled easily to his feet, his yellow eyes scanning the route he had come.  With that noise, the cold shock hunters would be rushing back toward the camp.

    [Your kill count has just surpassed two hundred.]

    A new path has been uncovered.

    Hades Salamander [Emerald]

    A random piece of your active inventory has been returned to you.

    [Bridle: Nightmare]

    "About **ing time."  Nix activated his aura and stowed his hilt before pushing flames into his twin-bladed staff.

    [Summons: Nightmare]

    Nightmare: Mount [Special]

    Draemon Skeletal Mount

    The Inferno Leader would have been wearing a huge smile as he took a moment to study his hybrid mount.  "The ** is a draemon?"  He swung easily into the saddle, his aura immediately adding to hers as they were both engulfed in black flames.  Nix noticed the color change; their combined aura had never been black before.

    "Capture him!  That's one of the new Elites!"  An older woman's voice shouted from the lip of the hidden gully.  Her beast howled in rage, charging forward when she released it.

    [Fire Storm][Salamandra]

    Green flames enveloped everything with thirty meters of the mounted Fire Mage; three consecutive bolts of emerald fire tore thru the old witch, instantly turning her into a screaming torch.  The creepy laugh of the Fire mage sounded above the roar of flames as emerald strands shot out of his hands and wrapped around the waists of the witches seeking to retreat.  "Stay and enjoy the warm weather!"

    Mordryn Yi has been slain.

    Cadwix Sorshire has been slain.

    Trillix Verda has been slain.

    Within a few moments, the one-sided beatdown was over.  Nix quickly dismounted and started searching the command tent.

    /Alpha: Rhy: Need that pick up, Nix?

    /Alpha: Nix: No.  My salamander path reopened when I leveled up.

    /Alpha: Pon: Punk!  You already have a class!

    /Alpha: Nix: That's why it says Elite after my name, old bastard.

    Nix turned slightly at the sound of more fighting.  Three beasts had managed to survive the inferno that wiped out their masters.  All of them were attacking the beast who had rebelled earlier.  He shrugged slightly and was about to return to his scavenging when Nightmare charged into the group.  "Oi!  The hell are you doing?"

    The beasts cowered from the stomping forefeet of the draemon, her black flame aura causing them damage before they could get close.

    Emerald fire strands wrapped around the beasts a moment later and lifted them off the ground.  Nix raised them up and slammed onto the rocky surface a few times before discarding them.  "Behave yourself..."

    After a few minutes of searching, Nix figured out why the tent had exploded.  The splintered remanents of a few barrels and the blackened stench of burnt gunpowder told him that his flame blades had accidentally ignited a hidden cache of explosives. He swung easily into the saddle and headed back toward the choke-point.

    /Alpha: Nix: How is the battle going?

    /Alpha: Edi: We've taken a few more prisoners, but the fighting is done.  According to the count, we killed nearly two hundred today.

    /Alpha: Sharl: Do you think that's all of them?

    /Alpha: Edi: Maybe, there might be a few more small groups hiding.

    /Alpha: Nix: We don't need to rush our search.  Tomorrow we'll stay here and protect the choke point.  Here are our numbers as of right now.

    [Bone Fortress, 1820 hours  Ice Faction: 12,566, Undead 10]

    Alfie: 21,140

    Edi: 20,350

    Nix: 211

    Pon: 198

    Sasi: 110

    Morti: 75

    Nezbit: 104

    Sharl: 7

    Rhy: 2

    Shae: 31

    /Alpha: Edi: Thank you for working so hard today!

    /Alpha: Nix: Those who were on the choke-point today should rest up.  I'll keep watch.

    /Alpha: Pon: They managed to take down poor Blinky.

    /Alpha: Nix: Yeah, but not before he tore them a new one.
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